- Grogan -
The basic concept of chatting is that you type a message on your screen, and within a second or two it appears on your chat partner's screen. This way you can carry on a conversation in almost real-time. Chatting on the Internet can be great fun, and you may make some new friends while you are at it. It is also a very cost effective way to communicate with friends and family that have moved away, maybe even half way around the planet. In this tutorial we will cover some of the available methods, starting with the oldest, IRC chat, and progressing to some of the newer methods like Instant Messaging programs and ICQ.
What is IRC?
IRC (Internet Relay Chat) is a vast network of clients (users) and servers and can be thought of as a mass text based teleconferencing system. The clients are connected to the servers, which are connected to each other in a kind of expanding tree like structure so that all points on the network are linked. Some of the servers don't have clients connected to them but act as hubs and routers for switching and relaying the data to other servers. When you sent text to a channel on IRC, the message is sent to each server that has clients on the particular channel, and each server then relays the message to its clients. The message will only be sent to the servers that have clients on the particular channel, and only those clients on the channel will receive the message. Thinking about the path that these messages have to take to get to all the servers and the fact that it must be relayed to all servers with clients on the channel and then to all clients on the channel, it is easy to understand why the concept of "lag" occurs. If one or more of these servers isn't doing the job of relaying properly, it can take considerable time for all clients to see the message. (not to mention that there can be lag along the path the client is connected to the IRC server itself, as often there are many hops (routing servers) in the path to get to the IRC server from your ISP. Typically, your chat messages must pass through 10 or more hops just to get to the IRC server.)
How do I get on IRC?
First of all, you need IRC client software. The best part of IRC is, it is platform independent. It doesn't matter what operating system you are running, there is an IRC client for you. Even if you connect to the Internet via a Unix shell account, there will be an IRC client available for you on the shell. My favorite IRC client (for Windows) is by far mIRC, written by Khaled Mardam Bey. It is shareware, but there is no time limit for registration. You can download mIRC from http://www.mirc.co.uk.
mIRC is very easy to install and does not make any changes to your system. It is one of the few programs I know of these days that just runs out of its own directory (default c:\mirc). It is also highly configurable by the user, with an advanced scripting interface, though you don't need to worry about that at the outset; it is very easy to operate if all you wish to do is chat.
Now that you have an IRC client, you have to decide which chat network you wish to connect to. My favorite is DalNet, but there are many others. The very first thing you must familiarize yourself with is the Options menu. It will pop up the very first time you open mIRC and you must enter some information and choose a server to connect to from the drop list. I recommend that you do not enter your real personal info, choose a nickname to use (you'll know it if it's already in use on the network when you go to connect and your secondary nick will be used) and for your real name enter something witty. It is also a good idea to enter a fake email address. If you enter real info here, people will be able to obtain it easily. To get back to where these settings are in mIRC at any time, go to File/Options and then highlight Connect in the tree on the left pane of the Options menu. Expand all the + signs and click the categories to view all the available options.
Choose a server from the list in Connect Options. There are many IRC networks and servers, but not all of them in the list will work for you. Some may no longer be in service, or you might just not have a connection to them from your domain. The most popular networks are DalNet, Effnet and Undernet with tens of thousands of users at any given time. When you get connected to an IRC server, you must join a channel that you think will interest you. In mIRC you can get a list of channels by clicking the icon on the toolbar that looks like a globe. Hover your mouse on the icons to see the tool tip descriptions.
In theory, all clients connected to servers on that network should be able to see and communicate with each other. If you are experiencing lag (delay) with the people you are talking to, try switching to another server on that network (preferably the same server that they are using). To see what server they are connected to, use the /whois command. Commands in mIRC are typed in a chat window (the status window or a channel window). The preceding slash indicates that it is a command and it will not be displayed in the chat.
Now that you have found some friends to talk to, you already know which channel you want to get back to. You don't have to go through the procedure of getting the channel list and scrolling through it to find the channel. You can add it to the mIRC channel list by clicking the folder icon with the # sign in the toolbar and then double-click the entry, or you can manually join the channel. For example, if you were talking to Crazygerman and Grogan in #winmag's_lounge on DalNet and you did a /whois and saw that we were using vancouver.dal.net you could connect to the server and join the channel using the following commands:
/server vancouver.dal.net 7000   (7000 is the port number, it's optional)
Once connected to the server, use:
If you are connected to a server on a network, and wish to get a list of servers that are linked to the network, use the following command:
This will open the "links" window and retrieve all the servers that are linked to the server you are presently on. Double-click one of these servers in the links window, and you will connect to that server. Note that you cannot connect to servers labeled as "Hub servers" or "Routing servers". Keep trying until you find a good one. When you find one that works well for you, add it to the server list (click the Setup Options icon or go to File/Setup options and you will see a drop-down list of servers. Click the Add button and enter the server in the list.)
This is enough to get you started chatting on IRC. As with any tutorial on this site, if you have specific questions about mIRC or IRC chat in general, feel free to post questions on the PC Q&A Forum